Recently, the Slovak President took some time off his state visit to Kenya to interact with the Kenyan tech community. During the presentations, one less known entity stood out. It is not based in Nairobi. However, it is largely the reason why the Slovakian president came out to chat with the community. It’s Sote Hub. David Ogiga, the hub’s Executive Director proudly introduced two founders of a company who went ahead to pitch their product. A car and motorcycle tracker. Not that long out of high school, the youngins have managed to develop a solution, create a business model around it and sustain a confidence in their ability to build a business. So far, they have sold 20 units and have 250 outstanding orders.
David Ogiga is particularly proud of the team and their peers back at Sote Hub. Before joining the hub, they had interacted with a high school programme that David and team runs with high schools in Taita Taveta county. It is the same programme that now has a symbiotic relationship with the hub. It is the hub’s pipeline. It led to the hub’s creation. It partly relies on the programme’s members for continued membership.
Like the hub, David says everything they have worked on has been prompted by demand. Voi, their location, is predominantly wildlife country. Sote Hub’s favourite pitch goes something close to this: Taita Taveta is best known for the renowned Tsavo West National Park. Tour guides, not techies, rule the roost here. That is what they seek to change. It is also the genesis of it all. David, too, never escaped the allure of wildlife. Soon after completing his undergrad. studies, he teamed up with a few friends to set a conservation trust. Soon, though, they realized the area faced a major challenge when it came to education; it always posted poor results in national exams.
“We thought investing in education was one of the best ways to improve lives. Schools could not afford educational materials. With ICT you can bring all these to them.” Say David
With the support of SlovakAid and Pontis Foundation they set up a high school ICT and business programme. Sote ICT, which is the older sibling of Sote Hub, installs tech labs in secondary schools whose outcome is ICT literacy that rivals any in the country.
John Paul, a former Community Manager at the iHub, succinctly summed up the outcome of the programme after a visit in 2015. In his words, the effect of Sote ICT rendered any pitch whose basis is there not being internet/ICT skills in rural Kenya.
The ICT initiative is supplemented with a business training element through business clubs. The clubs are linked to actual companies like KCB, Madison Insurance, Wildlife Works and some hotels, for mentorship.
“The kids coming out of these schools, if you compare them with others, there is a difference. They already know the work environment, how to write professional emails, quickbooks. Anything work or business related, ” says David.
Sote Hub, developed with assistance of established hubs like iHub and Swahili Box, came up as an extension of the Sote ICT project. A place for these students to explore their abilities beyond high school. It is a coworking space and startup incubator. It is open to the community. The county is home to Taita Taveta University and Coast Institute of Tech from whence some of the members, outside the high school programme, come.The hub started operating in Jan 2016.
Some startups within the hub are already recording revenue. Some of the outstanding ones include one that makes 3D filaments from recycled plastic, one that makes products from the famed Moringa tree and is already selling to supermarkets.It is also working on starting to make oil products from Moringa. There is one that has built smart water pumping system and already have an order from the Tavevo Water and Sanitation Company.
However, according to David, the huge story for Sote Hub is those who do not come to the hub. The ones who go elsewhere and do their own things. They keep an active whatsapp group where alumni engage.
The hub organises an annual fair where the small companies come into a huge space, and display their products in stalls. Last year, they invited the Governor, the Senator and the Slovak ambassador to Kenya.
Sustainability poses a challenge. They are however, exploring consultancy as a route to self-sustainability.